Pickford was one of the most fun and satisfying patterns I’ve designed. Back in November, I started noodling around with the idea of a bandana cowl. Looking around at Ravelry at some of my favorite designs like Zuzu’s Petals and Starshower, I was surprised at the construction; they all start by knitting flat, then joining for knitting in the round once the shawl-in-progress is wide enough to fit comfortably around the neck. This creates basically shawls that are fastened in the back, which is exactly what they were going for.
That construction creates a shawl-like project that starts low on the neck and lies flatter on the chest. My neck is always cold and feels vulnerable, so I wanted my design to go up a little higher, keeping the neck warm, but not being tight. Even though I like my neck warm, I can’t stand anything tight, which makes me odd, I know.
Starting from a cowl construction instead of a shawl construction seemed like the best angle, and would be much simpler to knit. But it needed to get wider at the bottom for comfort and to create the bandana shape I wanted.
The first iteration of the pattern featured increases at the “point” every round, which made it pontier. I liked that one, and it’ll be coming out as a new pattern soon, but I wanted to try something subtler (if you visited us at Vogue Knitting Live New York, it was a sample in the Impressionist section of the booth). The next try increased every other round, and I liked that, too, (it’s the Over the Rainbow cowl I wear pretty much every day, and at the Knitting Pipeline Retreat), but the Pickford version made just the bandana cowl shape I envisioned for a worsted-weight cowl.
This created just the warm, yet drapey and easy-to-knit cowl I had hoped for all along!
Test knitter Alane made a darling Pickford and gave me excellent pattern feedback. Thanks, Alane!
I love this construction so much, I’ve already got a lacy spring version on the needles. I hope you enjoy it, too!
Over the last 11 years, Jaala has knitted a fair bit, and Amy has been knitting for decades! Some tricks, when we learned them, made that flashbulb go off in our minds, and some we learned by sad trial and error. Once you’ve ripped back half a sweater, you find the motivation to change your knitting habits!
Come closer, because we’re about to share some of our best knitting tricks for faster and more successful knitting, and most of them don’t even require picking up your needles! Some preparation beforehand will save you time and trouble no matter what style of knitting grip you use.
Tips for faster knitting
Much of successful knitting is a mental game; preparation is key! If you plan for a few research steps before you cast on, you’ll save a lot of gnashing of teeth in the long run.
Check Your Pattern
1. Research: Cut
Have a gorgeous sweater in your mind’s eye, maybe one you spotted in a store or on a passerby? Scan available databases to find the right one; Ravelry is your best friend here. First, check the basic cut and construction. A key question: Will this look good on me? for example, an empire waist may draw attention to the bust and away from the stomach, which is great for some people (me!–Jaala).
If you find a sweater pattern you like, look on Ravelry project pages to see how other people look in the project, watching especially for people with your body type. (To find that, click on the Patterns tab in Ravelry, click on the photo of the pattern you like, and then click on the Projects tab that will come up third from the left in the navigation tabs.)
Look at the successes and the failures and decide for yourself whether your 100+ knitting hours will make you (or your intended recipient) look spectacular in that pattern. Don’t commit until you can answer with a resounding yes!
2. Research: Construction/Writing
Do you fear steeking, shy away from Contiguous necklines or hate the Kitchener stitch? Look at the Ravelry keywords for each project to decide without purchasing the pattern whether that one is for you. If there is a construction method you favor or would like to try, like top-down, in the round or triangular shawl construction, you can search patterns using that keyword.
Does the pattern have errata, or is the designer dependable? Look on Ravelry or the designer’s or publisher’s website to see if other knitters have found mistakes in the pattern. Taking a chance an a new or unknown designer can be exciting, but for peace of mind, it may be better to go with a pattern that 400 people have successfully completed than to the be the third one to try it.
Prepare for Success
Once you’ve chosen your perfect pattern, with just the right amount of lace or a body hugging fit, rally your materials!
3. Choosing the Right Yarn
Depending on your knitting personality, getting the right yarn for your project can be a bit of a challenge. If you are determined to use the exact yarn specified by the designer, you know it will act just as the pattern promises, but you may have to budget in advance. And you don’t want to be caught short with only one sleeve and no more yarn, so for a sized garment, going up a skein is usually the best bet. You can always make a matching hat with the extra, but trying to match a dyelot that’s been discontinued to finish that last bit can be a bummer. If you’re knitting a pair of socks or shawl, usually fingering-weight yarns can be substituted fairly easily. Just check your yardage compared to the yardage called for in the pattern and make a gauge swatch if you’re not sure.
If you’re a dyed -in-the wool (sorry, couldn’t resist) stasher, you may be determined to make that bag of alpaca yarn from 1993 fit your sleek, modern silhouette. Before you make that thrifty move, check again on Ravelry to see what kinds of yarn people have used successfully with the pattern. Will your yarn do what you want it to do? Stretch and drape, hold firm?
If your yarn content varies significantly from the pattern , so may your garment from the finished product. You may want to re-check your stash for something with the same or at least similar fiber content to make sure the project does what you want it to do. If you have an experienced knitting friend, this would be a great time to have her help you identify some key aspects of the pattern, like whether it’s meant to drape, be knit tightly to keep out the wind or hold architectural details like cables to show off stitch definition.
4. Prepare Your Yarn
Once you have your perfect yarn in hand, don’t just wind one skein into a ball, wind them all, and put them all together in a safe (but not hidden) place. You don’t want to slow the flow by having to clear off table space for your ball winder whenever you reach the next skein.
5. Pattern Wrangling
If it’s in a book or magazine, make yourself a copy so you can haul it around with you and doodle on it. If it’s a downloaded pattern, make sure you know where you stored it so you can find it again if needed! Then, once you purchase the pattern, read it. All the way through. Mark your size with a highlighter every place the stitch counts differ, if a hard copy. Mentally note all the places where you will have to do shaping and, say, lace at the same time. If you think you may need to alter the pattern (adding more or less inches through the trunk, for example) get that all figured out and marked in your pattern beforehand.
6. Choose Your Tools Wisely
Check which needles the pattern calls for and make sure you have them safely stored with your yarn, including both circulars and dpn’s or whatever the pattern calls for.
If your pattern has increases, decreases, short rows, remotely complicated stitch patterns or gussets, do yourself a favor and locate (or even better, treat yourself to) a set of stitch markers. Many a time, we have both thought we could easily remember where the stitch patterns changed or where the bust increase was only to learn several rows later that we’d chugged right past it. Regular safety pins, tiny slices of plastic straw or little loops of waste yarn can work fine in a pinch.
7.You Knew it Was Coming
Every single person that gives you knitting advice, be it your neighbor or Vicki Howell, is going to tell you to do a gauge swatch. They may even try to convince you it will be fun. Look, it probably won’t be, but you know what’s even more not fun? Frogging your beautiful completed sweater back because it would fit a porpoise or a preschooler or ripping out your would-be shawl that’s stiff and watertight.
For something that needs to fit, this is crucial! If you skip this step, you may have to start over after two days of knitting. There’s a reason everyone says to do a gauge swatch, and it’s because we knitters are infinite. The gauge for the pattern just happens to be the gauge gotten by the designer or the sample knitter that week. That’s the beauty of handknitting!
And your gauge may change over time. I (Jaala) always considered myself a loose knitter, until a test knitter trying to match my gauge had to go down two needle sizes. I guess I changed my approach over the years…
Exceptions: shawls, cowls or hats can get away without a swatch most of the time, but if you’re substituting yarn, it can still be a big help. Shawls and scarves are meant to drape and have a looser gauge, while hats generally need some structure. It wouldn’t hurt to do a gauge swatch where you try a couple of different needle sizes to find your perfect fabric.
So pull out those needles (and a glass of wine if needed) and cast on and work a nice gauge swatch, at least six inches wide and tall. Wash it, block it and then measure your gauge. And then tell everyone around you how important gauge is and how virtuous you were.
8. Study up on Cast Ons – do you need it to be firm? Loose? Provisional? Don’t hesitate to step out of your own comfort zone!
Here’s one of our favorites: the Cable Cast-On
While the Long-Tail Cast-On can be awesomely used for almost anything, the Cable-Cast-On means you don’t have to estimate how much yarn you’ll need for the CO row and fall short (done this many times). Also, unlike a Long-Tail Cast-On, it creates a Right-Side row, so will blend seamlessly with stockinette stitch. See a lovely article on how to do the Cable Cast on on Knitty (it’s the second method described). As the author mentions, Elizabeth Zimmerman says it “looks equally well on both sides”.
As with most cast-ons, make sure to cast on loosely enough that your finished garment won’t have a tight, uncomfortable edge on hat brims, sleeves or sock cuffs. See a nice video of this technique by Gingerly4it on You Tube.
9. Bind Off
When it’s time to finish your piece and you’re eager to cross the finish line, make sure to choose a bind-off that will do the job nicely. For a nice, firm edge, a regular bind-off is fine, but in general, you want to make sure your bind-off isn’t too, well, binding. A tight sweater cuff or hat brim can make all of your beautiful work a bear to wear.
For any kind of cuffs, lace projects or shawls, her’s our go-to bind off:
Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off. This bind-off uses an extra yarnover with each cast-off stitch to ensure a stretchy edge. You can watch the Knitting Blooms tutorial, or see the original article in Knitty.
There you go! Now you’re equipped to set sail on your next knitting project armed with practical tools to keep you going full speed ahead.
We’d love to hear any of your favorite knitting tips! Please comment and let us know what tricks get you through your knitting day. 🙂
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of your wonderful knitters. I hope you’re all having a lovely day, and I have one more gift for you!
This community means so much to me. You’ve been there for me through thick and thin, through the rise of Knitcircus Magazine, loss of the magazine and rebirth of the business as an independent yarn studio.
Dyeing self-striping yarn for all of you is truly the best job I could ever have, and your reception of the Gradient Stripes yarns was more than we hoped for. Knitcircus has grown tremendously in the past year, now employing six people, and it’s all thanks to this wonderful community.
As a token of my appreciation, please use the code merrymerry to download any pattern in the Jaala Spiro Ravelry store. Feel free to share with your friends!
Thanks so much to everyone who ordered from the store during the Second Harvest Foodbank fundraiser November 23-December 23rd! You donated enough for 150 meals, which made me so happy and proud yesterday when I gave them the funds.
I hope that you are all having a lovely holiday season and wish you all the best for a fantastic new year full of new hope, new opportunities and old friends. So please check out the Jaala Spiro Designs store and use the code merrymerry at checkout to download any pattern you’d like.
Here’s a new treat we’ve discovered that Mike and I are both a little addicted to.
If you thought Nutella couldn’t be improved upon (like me) here’a a lovely surprise. Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter is like an even more sumptuous and grown-up version, with more chocolate punch and the texture of real hazelnuts. It’s not exactly budget-conscious, but a little goes a long way! (Of course, you can see we’ve already eaten most of this jar….)
I’m very excited to introduce you to my new shawl pattern, Hibiscus Stripe! I wanted to create kettle dyes to complement the gradients so you could stripe them all the way through and never hit a patch where they looked too similar. For this one, I took the soft purple of the gradient colorway and made it a bit darker so that it’s similar, but always distinct in the stripes.
The pattern was super fun to create; I wanted to take the structure and shape of the Silk Moon Crescent and make it even more intuitive.
Hibiscus Stripe makes the same crescent shape, but this time all of the increases are inside the body of the shawl in a very easy-to-memorize sequence.
And, of course, what’s not to love about garter and stripes! Of course, we’re working diligently in the Lair getting ready for Stitches Midwest, and are even planning to release a new gradient yarn color there. All I’ll say is that it’s called Diva. 🙂